Published:  12:54 PM, 13 June 2019

Japanese leader seeks to cool US-Iran tensions

Japanese leader seeks to cool US-Iran tensions

The leader of Japan is visiting Iran to warn that an "accidental conflict" could be sparked amid heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivered that message just hours after Yemen's Iranian-backed Houthi rebels attacked an airport in Saudi Arabia, wounding 26 people.

Abe's trip is the highest-level effort yet to de-escalate the crisis as Tehran appears poised to break the 2015 nuclear deal it struck with world powers. The Trump administration pulled out of the accord last year.

Success may prove difficult for Abe, as the Houthi rebel attack on Saudi Arabia's Abha regional airport underscored. The attack is just the latest in a wave of rebel drone and missile attacks targeting the kingdom, which has been mired in a yearslong war in Yemen.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has underlined a joint commitment to finding peaceful solutions to the standoff over Iran as she meets with one of Tehran's most prominent regional rivals.

Germany is one of the signatories to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran that is trying to salvage the agreement following the United States' withdrawal and amid increasing impatience in Tehran. Germany's foreign minister visited Iran Monday.

Merkel met Wednesday with Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Gulf kingdom's de facto ruler and a critic of Iran. She said that, although their countries hold partly diverging views, "the will to reach peaceful solutions unites us."

The crown prince didn't mention Iran in a brief statement to reporters on his wide-ranging talks with Merkel in Berlin. The leaders took no questions.

The Trump administration is imposing sanctions on an Iraq-based affiliate of Iran's Revolutionary Guard.

The Treasury Department says the penalties target the South Wealth Resources Company in Baghdad and two executives. The U.S. says the company and the two men are linked to the Guard's foreign wing, or Quds Force.

The administration last month designated the Guard as a foreign terrorist organization, which makes providing the Guard with material support illegal under U.S. law.

The new sanctions freeze any assets that the targets may have in U.S. jurisdictions and bar Americans from doing business with them.

The announcement comes as Japan's prime minister visits Iran in an effort to lower tensions between Washington and Tehran.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is calling for "more patience" amid tensions between Iran and the U.S.

Abe made the comments Wednesday night beside President Hassan Rouhani after closed-door talks during his visit to Tehran.

Abe says he and Rouhani "bluntly discussed" the crisis.

The Japanese premier added: "There is possibility of an accidental conflict and a military conflict should be prevented at all costs."

Rouhani earlier said that Japan wanted to continue to buy Iranian oil, though Tokyo has stopped over American sanctions. Abe did not acknowledge that in his remarks.

Rouhani added: "Whenever the economic war stops, we will see a very positive development in the region and the world."

Iran's president says the Islamic Republic does not seek war with the U.S., but will give "a crushing response" if it is attacked.

Rouhani made the comment Wednesday night as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stood by him.

Rouhani also said that Japan wanted to continue to buy Iranian oil, though Tokyo has stopped over American sanctions.

Rouhani added: "Whenever the economic war stops, we will see a very positive development in the region and the world."

The Japanese leader is in Tehran on a mission to calm tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

The Trump administration has re-imposed heavy sanctions on Iran after deciding to withdraw from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal a year ago. The U.S. recently deployed an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf.

Yemeni officials say that the Saudi-led coalition has launched airstrikes against a Houthi rebel stronghold in the country's north.

They say the strikes hit targets in the Baqim district, in the province of Saada. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief media.

The Wednesday airstrikes came hours after the Iranian-allied rebels launched a cruise missile hitting an airport in Saudi Arabia, wounding 26 people.

The rebel-linked Al-Masirah satellite news channel claimed that the Saudi-led forces also bombed civilian areas in another nearby district.

Saudi Arabia has led a military coalition supporting Yemen's internationally recognized government and fighting the Houthi rebels since March 2015.

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